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Coronavirus Is Closing Borders in Europe and Past. What Does That Imply for Refugees?

Coronavirus Is Closing Borders in Europe and Beyond. What Does That Mean for Refugees?


When Wahidullah Rahimi leaves his tent to wander across the refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos, he wears a face masks. However between standing in line alongside different refugees at meals distribution facilities and sleeping in an unsanitary tent, the 32-year-old Afghan is aware of there may be little he can do to guard himself from COVID-19.

“There’s a huge chance of everybody right here getting coronavirus,” Rahimi says. “Everyone seems to be anxious.”

The E.U.-funded camp in Samos, in-built 2016 to accommodate 640 folks, is now dwelling to not less than 3,745 refugees who stay in overcrowded and unsanitary situations. Asylum-seekers, who sleep in cramped tents at evening, already battle to entry medical care. In some elements of the camp, there may be simply one water faucet for 1,300 folks and one rest room for 167 folks.

When Rahimi first arrived on the camp from Afghanistan 5 months in the past, he didn’t suppose the situations might “get any worse.”

However then the coronavirus hit, infecting greater than 435,000 folks and killing greater than 19,000 worldwide. The European Union closed its borders to non-nationals on March 17. The following day, the Greek authorities imposed restrictions on refugees’ motion inside the camp, permitting just one particular person per household out every day.

Now, refugees like Rahimi are questioning what the coronavirus means for his or her futures within the camps and on the continent. Whereas just one case of COVID-19 has been recorded on the 5 Greek islands that shelter 42,000 refugees, consultants say the coronavirus will unfold uncontrollably if it reaches the camps. However the virus places extra than simply refugees’ well being in danger: it might threaten their relocation to different E.U. nations as a part of the asylum-seeking course of.

“I’m anxious that coronavirus will have an effect on whether or not I may be in a rustic that I need to be in,” Rahimi says.

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Human rights activists fear that E.U. nations, significantly Greece, will use the coronavirus as an excuse to droop asylum or relocation. Greece was already taking a hardline method to asylum earlier than the coronavirus outbreak in Europe. On March 1, the Greek authorities suspended new asylum functions for a month, sending navy troops to the border with Turkey to cease migrant arrivals. The federal government was additionally discovered to be detaining migrants at a secret extrajudicial location and sending them again to Turkey with out due course of.

“What we fear about is that once they took that measure two or three weeks in the past, they didn’t have coronavirus,” Eva Cossé, a researcher at Human Rights Watch tells TIME. “However now that there’s coronavirus, there’s a excessive danger that the federal government will prolong this suspension.” She provides, “they might do it indefinitely by utilizing the coronavirus as an excuse.”

Whereas below worldwide regulation, nation states have the authorized proper to manage who can and can’t cross their borders, they can not refuse asylum seekers fleeing from persecution. On March 16, the United Nations Excessive Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched a paper which reiterates that although states can implement well being or screening measures for refugees trying to enter its territory, any blanket measures banning refugees with out proof of a well being danger is discriminatory below worldwide regulation.

But consultants concern that as politicians scramble to include the unfold of the coronavirus, asylum seekers will likely be affected. In addition they fear that the relocation of refugees from Greece’s overcrowded camps to different E.U. nations will doubtless be placed on the again burner.

Relocation could also be impacted by the varied restrictions which might be being put in place by Europe to deal with the unfold of COVID-19,” Boris Cheshirkov, a UNHCR consultant in Greece tells TIME. A brief suspension of refugee relocation would delay household reunification, posing specific issues for youngsters at present residing in Greece awaiting reunification with their dad and mom.

Some European nations pledged to relocate 1,600 youngsters from the Greek islands,” says Cossé of Human Rights Watch. “Nevertheless it appears to be like like these sorts of motion are going to be placed on maintain till the scenario improves.”

Refugees on the Greek islands additionally fear concerning the influence a coronavirus outbreak would have on the camp, the place well being situations are already dire. Many refugees residing within the camp are disabled, aged and have continual well being situations which have gone untreated because of the lack of medical assets on the island, doubtless making them extra inclined to the virus.

Consultants word that if the virus finds its approach into the camps, will probably be a catastrophe. “If there may be one case of coronavirus within the camp, everybody will get it,” Cossé says.

She added that medical services should not geared up to deal with the present well being issues, by no means thoughts “an outbreak of coronavirus affecting near 20, 000 folks.” Whereas medical charities have been working on the islands since a surge of migrants arrived on its shores in 2015, current assaults by far-right Greek vigilante teams on support employees has resulted in lots of closing down their operations within the camps.

Rahimi, together with different refugees on Samos, have began taking issues into their very own arms by disseminating flyers with well being recommendation from Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) about social distancing and efficient hand-washing methods to different refugees residing within the camp. Rahimi, who labored on the medic staff of a police drive again in Afghanistan, has additionally began offering first support remedy to younger youngsters in an effort to maintain them wholesome.

However Rahimi is aware of that so long as refugees live in overcrowded situations, little may be finished to cease the unfold of the virus.

“If they supply everybody with a house, it’s attainable to keep away from coronavirus and shield refugees,” Rahimi says. “However this received’t occur. For 5 years, they haven’t supplied correct housing.”

For years, human rights teams akin to Amnesty Worldwide have criticized the EU for turning its again on Greece and failing to assist it in addressing the inhumane situations in Samos.

Although the Greek authorities has pledged to speed up the constructing of latest services and convert all open constructions within the camps to closed ones, rights teams say the federal government will not be doing sufficient to guard refugees and stop the unfold of the virus. “The federal government has not taken significantly the chance for refugees,” Cossé says.

Since March 18, the federal government has restricted refugees’ motion and enforced a lockdown between 7 p.m. and 7am. However activists say these current measures, which lock refugees into overcrowded and unhygienic camps, are discriminatory.

Cossé says that as a substitute, the federal government ought to be relocating refugees with the virus from the islands to smaller managed well being services and enhancing the situations during which they stay. Exasperated, she provides, “however the authorities’s technique is to lock everybody in a single place and throw away the important thing.”

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